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Harvard Business Review | 04.19.17

Creating Simple Rules for Complex Decisions

Jongbin Jung, Connor Concannon, Ravi Shroff, Sharad Goel, Daniel G. Goldstein

Jongbin Jung, Connor Concannon, D&S fellow Ravi Shroff, Sharad Goel, and Daniel G. Goldstein explore new methods for machine learning in criminal justice.

Simple rules certainly have their advantages, but one might reasonably wonder whether favoring simplicity means sacrificing performance. In many cases the answer, surprisingly, is no. We compared our simple rules to complex machine learning algorithms. In the case of judicial decisions, the risk chart above performed nearly identically to the best statistical risk assessment techniques. Replicating our analysis in 22 varied domains, we found that this phenomenon holds: Simple, transparent decision rules often perform on par with complex, opaque machine learning methods.


Jongbin Jong

Connor Concannon

Ravi Shroff

Sharad Goel

Daniel G. Goldstein

04.19.17

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